Every Eph has, or has had a Junior Advisor. How are the people who affect so much of the Williams College community chosen? Who decides?
As the announcement of the JAs for the Class of 2002 in mid-March approaches, Amy Marinacci ’98 and Maya DeHart ’98, Co-Chairs of the JA Selection Committee, explained the selection process.
The selection process is entirely run by students. “JAs are a unique thing at Williams because they’re not bound to the administration. They are not paid and they do not enforce rules. It’s also the reason that the administration is not involved in the selection process,” DeHart said.
“Students are a better judge of what makes a good JA because they have had one or been one,” Marinacci agreed.
DeHart and Marinacci, along with this year’s JA Co-Presidents, Dede Orraca-Tetteh ’99 and Jon Putman ’99, and two members of last year’s committee, selected 18 other students from the classes of 1998, 1999 and 2000 to complete the group of 24 on the Selection Committee.
Marinacci and DeHart said they attempted to balance JAs and non-JAs. Marinacci said half of the committee is non-JAs, which is a higher percentage than in past years. They also looked for diversity in dorms, interests and activities.
At the end of first semester, Marinacci, DeHart, Orraca-Tetteh and Putman also held a required informational meeting for prospective applicants from the Class of 2000. “The meeting is important to make sure that everyone knows the process. It’s important to have informed applicants,” DeHart said.
“It also makes sure they can commit enough to come to a meeting,” Marinacci said.
Sophomores who attended the meeting could then obtain an application from the Dean’s Office. The application consisted of three parts â€” a self-recommendation, a peer recommendation and a JA (former or current who does not have to have been one’s own JA) recommendation. All portions of the application were due at the beginning of Winter Study.
Over the course of Winter Study, the Committee interviewed the majority of the candidates. The first part of the interview was in a group. “We wanted to see how they would act in an entry setting,” DeHart said. The other part of the interview was personal, in which applicants were asked how they would respond to certain situations in an entry.
After each applicant completed the four parts of the application, the committee started its deliberations. The procedure includes two rounds and a final ballot. “In the first round, we read through every single piece of paper out loud. After we read all three, we go over the interview that each applicant had,” DeHart said. The committee is currently halfway through the first round of applicants. DeHart said the vast majority of applicants will get passed to the second round.
“In the second round, we again go through all of the applications in a highlighted form,” DeHart said. Marinacci explained that each committee member highlights the important points or passages in the applications, and these are re-read in the second round to refresh the committee members’ memories of the candidates. At the end of the second reading, another vote will be taken. The top 75 vote-getters will then proceed to the final ballot.
For the final ballot, each committee member records their vote separately rather than voting aloud. Of the 75 final choices, 52 are named JAs and 10 are waitlisted.
The committee spends many hours reaching consensus on the 52 candidates. “We meet a total of 70 hours until spring break,” DeHart said. Marinacci said this number is calculated on a half-hour-per-candidate basis. “It is easy for members of the committee to be under appreciated… The fact that committee members remain largely anonymous means that they are doing this because they want to and not for the recognition of the intense time commitment they are making,” DeHart said.
And what exactly are the qualities they are looking for in JAs?
“A formula sort of evolves. You learn what you’re looking for in a JA in the process and who has it and who doesn’t. It’s a lot of intangibles,” DeHart explained.
“There are a lot of qualities looked for by everyone, but every person has their own individual opinions. Everyone has their own individual vote. I wouldn’t say there’s a general formula,” Marinacci said. “First and foremost are personal qualities but because there’s no concrete formula, it’s hard to have that be the only criteria.”
Diversity among JAs is one concrete consideration. “Clearly, you don’t want a JA class all from the same team or the same social circle. You want to be able to reach out to all of the freshmen,” Marinacci said. “It depends on individuals. Some people think it’s better not to load up a class with one type of person.”
“I’m speaking for myself here,” DeHart said. “Clearly we as a committee only accept people who we feel confident will serve as good JAs. But beyond that, I do feel that it is important to look at the JA class that we accept as a whole and make sure that it is diverse in every sense of the word. Diverse in terms of personalities, as there is not one concrete personality that qualifies for a good Junior Advisor, diverse in terms of social scenes and activities, diverse in terms of athletic and extra curricular activities and diverse in terms of race and ethnicity.
“It is important for the JA class to represent a cross-section of this campus as this sends a certain message to first-year students. Also, given that the first-year class is made up of diverse people, it is important that they have at least one JA with whom they feel comfortable, if not their own,” she added.
Past JAs, past applicants, current JAs, current applicants and the freshmen seem to agree that, while the process has inherent weaknesses, it is as fair as possible.
Current applicant Dave Erickson ’00 said he has faith in the process. “There was a lot of stuff we had to go through, but I believe that the committee is very sincere in their efforts and they’re trying to find the best JAs possible,” Erickson said. “They’re trying to be thorough.”
“I think it’s as fair as it can be,” current JA Paul Alsdorf ’99 said. “Obviously, people are going to quarrel with specific decisions they make. It doesn’t work well in every single case, but I’m not sure how they could make it better while keeping it manageable for the committee. They’re trying to evaluate 100 people in a couple of months.” He added, “I think they did a really good job with my class.”
“I think the group that we had did a good job,” former JA Lizz Taylor ’98 said. “They do a thorough job of picking a well-diversified group of people. They put in lots of dedication and hard work.”
“They (the committee) have one of the toughest jobs ever,” current applicant Medha Khirtane ’00 said. “I know there are people who are upset about the committee because they think the people on the selection committee pick their friends, but you have to have faith that it will be fair and they’ll do the right thing.”
Khirtane said the committee does seem to have an agenda. “I think they’re trying to find a certain ideal JA while still making it a diverse group of people,” she said. “There are so many qualified people in so many ways, but after certain cuts are made, it becomes a really arbitrary process.”
Current JA Katie Montgomery ’99 also characterized the process as random. “A friend doesn’t get it who should have gotten
it, and you do, and then you’re like, ‘Why did I get it?’” she said. “I felt it seemed a little random, given that it’s peoples’ individual opinions, but I don’t have a solution to make it better.”
Past applicant Sam Abelson ’98 said, “It’s the best process possible but it obviously has its flaws. A lot of it has to do with people who know people, people who are friends with people and people who aren’t friends with people,” she said. “I don’t have any real insight into it, though.”
Anjali Lunia ‘01 said she thinks the process seems fair. “I think they do a good job selecting the JAs. I don’t feel neglected that I’m not part of it,” she said.